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Trip Report Adventures of the White-Rumped Monjita in Pantanal South at Caiman and Ilha

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White-Rumped Monjita: “Perches conspicuously on fence posts, trees and buildings in agricultural areas and open savanna, often near water. Within Brazil, most commonly found in The Pantanal. Little is known about its behavior.”

Unfortunately, I was unable to get a picture of this bird, but here is a Google image link to the White-Rumped Monjita. The first pages are family viewing but with rump in the title, who knows what lurks in the double digits.

http://tinyurl.com/n7nqr7

Dates of travel June 25 to July 5, 2009
7 nts Refúgio Ecológico Caiman & 3 nts Refúgio da Ilha that included one night drive at nearby San Francisco

What a great combination of habitats, scenery, wildlife, and accommodations provided bythis itinerary. I’ll put in a link to photos in the next post. Upcoming comparisons between North and South Pantanal will be in purple.

A WHOLE WEEK AT CAIMAN?
The recommended time is 4 nights, though 3 nights is available, but I requested a week. Ideally a 7-night stay is split between 2 of their 3 accommodations. That was my plan but renovations and insufficient guests to operate a second lodge prevented it.

Even though activities are repeated with a week's stay, a walk in the woods always produces something new. Splitting a stay means the walks would be done in different locations. Drives are never the same, even on the same roads. Once was enough for the horseback riding /canoe day for me, though. For most people 4 nights would be fine.


JUNE/JULY CONDITIONS AND WHEN TO GO TO THE PANTANAL
The comments would apply to either North or South Pantanal.

There were virtually no rains during the Nov 08-March 09 wet and rainy seasons that preceded my visit so my experience may not be typical.

June is usually considered part of the vazante season, which is the transition from wet to dry, when the standing water starts to evaporate. July marks the official start of the dry season, when mammal viewing becomes easier. June 25-July 5 was the transition from the transition season, sort of like The Pantanal squared.

Temperatures this time of year tend to be hot, in the upper 80s or higher during the day, and cool at night. But cold fronts come through, bringing daytime temps down to the upper 60s or low 70s. I experienced two non-consecutive days of cool fronts along with hot, humid days.

Normally, there is little or no rain this time of year. But the changing weather patterns that deprived the Pantanal of wet season precipitation, brought a few light showers during my stay, which in turn brought massive mosquitoes—far more than I experienced during a rain-free August visit in 2007 to the North Pantanal.

When I asked guides and staff what their favorite time of year was for the Pantanal, answers included November when the first rains turn brown landscapes to green and April & May, near the end of the wet season. May and early June were cited for cooler, pleasant temperatures. When the guides talked about the most jaguars they had ever seen in a week or month, the recurring times were February and March. Whatever their favorite time of year, all agreed that the best mammal viewing was July-Oct with Sept usually being optimal.

July, the start of the dry season, has pros and cons. The pros are that the flowering trees begin to bloom, including the pink Piuva trees, the weather is not too hot yet, and mammal viewing in the dry season is good. But Brazilians generally have about a month of holiday in July resulting in higher prices and more visitors. August and September have blooming Tabebuia trees in shades of pink, purple, and yellow, good mammal viewing, and fewer crowds.

If you hope to see the unique phenomena of giant anteater mothers carrying babies on their backs, the guides stated that the best time for this was approximately June to early September. The explanation was that by the height of the dry season (into Sept and Oct) there would be more ants available for the young anteaters to seek out on their own four feet. It is also easier to see any mammals June through Oct than when the fields of the Pantanal are flooded and animals seek higher ground. Baby anteaters getting a ride on mom or even a glimpse of an adult anteater can never be guaranteed.

Some of the better bird watching is Sept to Nov when breeding takes place. Not only do the birds display their breeding plumage at this time, but the courtship activities take up a lot of energy. That means the whereabouts of the birds are more predictable because they are too tired to go very far.

From strictly an accommodations standpoint of when to go to South Pantanal if staying you are staying at Caiman, generally the main lodge is open year round and the other two accommodations (Baiazinha and Cordilheira) are open during the high season, which correlates closely to the dry season, with July being the busiest month due to Brazilians on holiday. Due to renovations at Main Lodge and the slow economy only Cordilheira was open for most of my stay.

I had a great time on my June 25 arrival in the Pantanal and also enjoyed a previous August trip. Next time, I want to visit in maybe early April to experience the wet season.

BOOKING
As a rule general Caiman Lodge is not more expensive when booked through an agent than when booked directly. My experience confirmed that. I used International Expeditions, the well-known nature company in Alabama, because originally I was hoping to join one of their group trips but the dates offered did not work for me so a private trip was recommended. I requested a week at Caiman and Charlie Weaver at IE suggested 3 nights at Refúgio da Ilha for a 10-night trip, all in the Pantanal.

In these tough times, I wanted to use a solid company and IE sends more people to Caiman than anyone else I believe, at least from the US. For pricing when you consider there was no penalty for using a credit card, it came out to be about the least expensive option for a very reputable company for Caiman. I did not do a price comparison for Ilha, but it seemed reasonable for the transfer and private guide.

All of the planning process went well, IE sent me a couple of booklets of helpful information on Brazil and the Pantanal, including a Caiman bird list, and everything was great once I got to the Pantanal The Caiman guides were fantastic, and my private guide for Ilha was too. At Refúgio da Ilha, if you do not speak Portuguese, you must bring your own guide who can interpret. That rule applies regardless of what company does the booking.

When I changed my original plans from a midday flight home to an evening flight home, I ended up with a free morning at Ilha. I was able to add a 6-hour final outing (that had some cool Neotropic Otter action) for no additional charge from the original quote.

The bargains for international flights that are part of the package deal for group departures with International Expeditions did not apply to my independent trip so I arranged my own air by phone directly through TAM, which was the lowest fare I could find anywhere. Since I was going only one place in Brazil, the TAM airpass was not needed, but it saved me money on my last trip when I had more stops.

I used the company suggested by IE for my Brazilian visa and liked the fact that Charlie Weaver notified the owner to be on the lookout for my application. A little extra attention when my passport is involved can’t hurt. Charlie also suggested I request a 5-year visa rather than the standard timeframe—they all cost the same. This will save a couple of hundred dollars of visa expense on a return trip, which I hope to make in the wet season.

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    WHAT WOULD ART WOLFE DO?
    During the planning process, I wasn’t privy to what famous wildlife photographer Art Wolfe would do or had done, but once I got there I discovered that one of my guides had worked for him with his Travels to the Edge series.

    I was pleased we had a similar itinerary. Apparently Mr. Wolf had specific goals for the Pantanal that included the giant anteater and jaguars. To maximize his odds, he spent a couple of days at Caiman and at San Francisco Lodge. These are supposed to be the best two places in the South Pantanal for jaguar from what I learned. (One of the best places in the whole Pantanal to view the jaguars is Baiazinha Lodge in North Pantanal on the Paraguay River, not to be confused with Caiman’s Baiazinha. Baiazinha means little lake. It was along the Paraguay River, in and near the Taiama Jaguar Reserve, that I saw 7 jaguars in 4 days in August 2007, which was fortunate but not astounding for the region.)

    While I did not stay at San Francisco, I went on a night spotlighting trip there from Refúgio da Ilha as part of my itinerary arranged by IE. It is at night that mammals such as the jaguar are most commonly seen in the rice fields of San Francisco, which attract a variety of rodents and marsh deer, and in turn their predators.

    Anyway, in only 4 or 5 days total, Art Wolfe achieved his anteater and jaguar photography goal. Granted, he probably spent more hours in the field than the average visitor. The only jaguar I saw on this trip was unaware of the Art Wolf strategy and showed up on the road during my transfer. I outdid Art in giant anteaters, though, with 31.

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    Hi Lynn,

    what a wonderful start to your trip report. Very useful information on when to visit and your accommodation and booking experiences. Eagerly waiting for more...


    Cheers,


    Pol

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    You' ve been peeking at the White-Rumped Monjita, then, Marija.


    NORTH AND/OR SOUTH PANTANAL
    My comments are based on only one 10-day visit to each location--the North in mid August of 2007 after a good wet season and the South in late June/early July of 2009 after a non-existent wet season. In the north I stayed at several locations along the Transpantaneira Highway & Baiazinha Lodge along the Paraguay River. In the South I stayed at Refúgio Ecológico Caiman & Refúgio da Ilha, which included a spotlighting night drive at Fazenda San Francisco.

    Accommodations—The places I stayed along the Transpantaneria Hwy in the north cannot compare luxury-wise with Baiazinha on the Paraguay River in the north or Caiman and Ila in the South. But all were completely acceptable with good food and places I’d happily return.

    Scenery—The picturesque waterways of the Salobra River at Ilha win the award, but all areas were pretty. The flowering trees that usually start blooming in July (some in late June) added to the attractiveness of any landscape.

    Logistics, arrangements—If you can get to Campo Grande, Caiman takes care of the rest for an easy trip, especially for solo travel. At Ilha, you need your own guide unless you speak Portuguese. In the north, I needed a guide and an agent to plan for the entire trip. Group departures are not that common in the north so I designed my own group trip that others joined. In the north it is also important to arrange an open vehicle, which is not the typical form of transport. At Caiman and Ilha, open vehicles were provided. If you wanted to include Bonito for waterfalls and snorkeling, that is closer to the south.

    Viewing conditions—I spent more time along the highway in the north. Of course on the Paraguay River everything was by boat. The viewing areas felt more private and removed from other traffic in the south. Caiman has such a huge area that it is very safari-like on drives with the only other traffic being employees, or maximum 3 other vehicles with guests. At Ilha we stayed mostly on their property or that of cooperating neighbors. The walks in both north and south were in secluded areas. In the north, which is closer to the Amazon, that presence was felt. The north just seemed lusher, greener, and less savanna-like. The wildlife activity seemed more concentrated in the north and more spread out in the south. I found the Pixiam River, near the Transp Hwy to have the most bird and caiman activity of any rivers, though it was not as charming as the Ilha waterways nor as jaguar-filled as the Paraguay.

    Weather—Pretty much the same north or south. The Paraguay River was cooler, plus speeding around on a boat also cooled things off.

    Weather websites
    For South Pantanal, the city of Miranda is more accurate than Campo Grande. I was checking the Campo Grande weather before leaving home and as a result packed my waterproof socks, which were not needed in the Pantanal, but might have been handy for the downpours they had in Campo Grande.

    http://weather.yahoo.com/Miranda-Brazil/BRXX2572/forecast.html

    For North Pantanal, I’d check Pocone and Cuiaba, depending on where you’ll be.

    http://weather.yahoo.com/Pocone-Brazil/BRXX3034/forecast.html
    http://www.wunderground.com/global/stations/83361.html

    Wildlife—In general every place I went was a great nature and wildlife destination.
    ~birds: I noted greater abundance, as in huge flocks, in the north. When counting species, I had 154 in the north but about half of that trip was mainly a jaguar hunt down a wide river. I had 161 species in the south. Caiman in the south, Jaguar Lodge along the Transpantaneira Hwy in the north, and a location near Baiazinha Lodge on the Paraguay River in the north all offered nice opportunities to see and photograph the Hyacinth Macaw. These birds were not seen much at Ilha.

    ~jaguars—If seeing them is a goal, then a place like Baiazinha Lodge along the Paraguay River in Pantanal North should be in the itinerary. Most other locations have rare jaguar sightings. Jaguar Lodge along the Transpantaneira Hwy in the north has a better record than the average ranch, though, maybe 25% of guests on a 2-3 day stay see one. San Francisco in the south is known for its mammal-rich night drives, including jaguars.

    ~ocelots—All just luck. I saw 3 in the north on the Transp Hwy and 4 in the south. The only ocelot picture was on the San Francisco night drive.

    ~anteaters—Again, just luck. But here I was extremely lucky with 31 sightings of the giant anteater in the south; 21 at Caiman and 10 at Ilha. In contrast I saw one giant anteater butt hanging out of the forest in the north. Well spotted on a night drive! I saw 1 lesser anteater in the north and 2 in the south.

    ~capybaras—Everytime I went to the Caiman properties of Baiazinha (not to be confused with the Baiazinha Lodge on the Paraguay River) or Main Lodge, there were herds of capybaras grazing out of the water. Refugio had one resident capybara that I noticed, but I saw only a couple on the boat outings. Whole families could be easily approached on the banks along the Paraguay River.

    ~crab eating foxes and raccoons—About the same in north or south, but Cordilheira, a Caiman property, offers good daytime viewing of the foxes who live in the area and are accustomed to human activity.

    ~coaties—About the same north or south, but Cordilheira has some relaxed troops for easier viewing.

    ~caiman—In keeping with my observations of abundance, I saw larger groups of them in the north.

    ~giant river otters—This is a species that is usually found at Ilha and a good place to go for giant river otters. Heavy flooding in the north of Brazil resulted in river conditions that made for one rare sighting during my stay. The less commonly seen Neotropic otter was around, though. I saw giant river otters on both of my Pixiam River trips in the north and in the Paraguay River in the north.

    ~snakes, lizards, tapirs, jagarundis, etc.—Any sightings at one place or another, especially in just a 10 day time frame, is an indication of good fortune more than suitable habitat.

    The White-Rumped Monjita had a significant presence in both north and south locales, for the record.

    An itinerary that included both north and south would be outstanding. If you could include wet and dry season travel that would be even more fantastic. It’s looking like a several month trip is the ideal and when you win the lottery give me a call and we’ll talk.

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    Thanks Leely, they are just about ready.

    Oh yeah, the monkey action (howlers and brown capuchins) was pretty much the same in north and south, but I got lucky at Ilha in the south when a troop of capuchins came to say good-bye.

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    Photos

    Refúgio Ecológico Caiman –stay of 1 week - 125 photos
    If taken on a drive, boat, or walk, that is stated
    If taken while on the property of one of the lodges: Baiazinha, Cordilheira, Main; or at Sao Domingo, the corral, or community center, that is stated
    http://www.kodakgallery.com/ShareLanding.action?c=k8fpf01.ae06nd0d&x=0&y=4i6w5e&localeid=en_US


    Refúgio da Ilha—stay of 3 nights – 75 photos
    If taken on a drive, boat, or walk, that is stated
    If taken on the Ilha property, it just says refugio
    If taken at Fazenda San Francisco, where I went one evening for a night drive, it says San Francisco
    http://www.kodakgallery.com/ShareLanding.action?c=k8fpf01.5hxtg1i5&x=0&y=-oukpyt&localeid=en_US

    The number of photo ops presented without ever leaving the accommodations is impressive. If I had skipped an activity and hung out at the lodges during the prime animal activity hours of early morn and late afternoon, there’d probably be even more photos at right the lodge/ranch.


    Vehicle used and all Accommodations – 32 photos
    All are labeled, but are in no particular order
    http://www.kodakgallery.com/ShareLanding.action?c=k8fpf01.1vk19gsd&x=0&y=-vr7jk2&localeid=en_US

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    CAMPO GRANDE—ON THE MENU OR ON THE ITINERARY
    When I told my mom I’d be flying into Campo Grande, she remarked that it sounded like something on the menu at Taco Bell. Granted, I used the American accent of Gran da instead of the Portuguese accent of Grandj.

    Back when the Pantanal first landed on my radar screen a decade ago, I thought Campo Grande was kind of like a big (grande) base camp(o) from which excursions were made into the Pantanal.

    In fact Campo Grande, which translates to Big Field, is a tree-filled city of 700,000 and I was treated to a tour by my guide, Fernanda, at the conclusion of the trip as we headed to the airport.

    We saw the beginnings of a cultural and natural history museum that would make a stop in Campo Grande on the way to the Pantanal more enticing. I had considered an overnight there for a buffer day, but had trouble locating a place to stay, so I decided to head straight to Caiman on their shuttle service from the airport.

    Fernanda mentioned that the Ibis Hotel, part of the international chain, is a good place to stay in Campo Grande for a reasonable price and a decent room. It has an airport shuttle.

    To add the Blue and Yellow Macaw to your list, a stop at Campo Grande is a good idea. This species is not found in the Pantanal. We saw several flying overhead in the late afternoon.

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    CAMPO GRANDE TO CAIMAN TRANSFER VAN, AKA THE WILDLIE EXPRESS
    It’s probably not always The Wildlife Express, but it was for me.

    There is a midday and an early evening air-conditioned 4-hour van transfer to Caiman Lodge from the Campo Grande airport each Thursday and Sunday, allowing 3- or 4-night stays. Or you can stay a week like I did. The same shuttle takes you back to the airport at the end of your stay. It is included in the cost of your stay. It is also possible to fly there on a small plane.

    If you arrive on a morning flight into Campo Grande, as I did, you’ll be greeted by a rep with a Caiman sign but then be prepared to wait at the airport until the next flight with guests comes in. This wait was the only occasion during my trip where the Brazilian currency, the Real, was needed to buy a bottle of water or a snack. There was no place to change money here and you could not pay in dollars and get reals back in change.

    If you do a group departure, such as International Expeditions offers, your group is immediately transferred to Caiman upon arrival in Campo Grande and you don’t have to wait around for more people.

    The roads are excellent but speeds are fast and harrowing passing is the norm, therefore I would want the midday and not the evening/night transfer if possible. Plus it is harder to see animals at night because the comfortable air conditioned van is not equipped with spotlighting equipment.

    Transfer Sighting #1: Around 4:00 pm cruising along at about 110 km/h, I spied a giant anteater along the fence of a property well to the side of the highway. I shouted, “Giant anteater! Giant anteater! I just saw a giant anteater!” The four Brits who were transferring with me were fatigued from a day of travel and not that excited and the driver spoke no English. At the time I did not know tamanduá was the Portuguese word for anteater. So I had to do my celebratory anteater spotting dance alone in the back seat. I kept it subdued. One of the Brits asked me, “Did you get a picture?” She must have thought I had the photo genius of Art Wolfe to capture an image through tinted windows of a vehicle traveling 65 mph.

    Transfer Sighting #2: We stopped for gas shortly after the anteater and flitting around the trees of the gas station was the Blue and Yellow Macaw. It is seen in Campo Grande but not the Pantanal.

    Transfer Sighting #3: The last leg of the transfer was on a firm dirt road that passed many ranches as well as undeveloped land. Suddenly, about 50 meters in front of us, a jaguar was walking down the road toward us. It stopped and watched our approaching vehicle before moving into heavy brush on the side of the road. A guide later confirmed that is a classic jaguar move; they always stop a moment and look. I was able to use one of my few Portuguese phrases: “Onça aqui!” (Jaguar here!) Had anyone in the vehicle sneezed with excitement over the jaguar sighting, I could have added, “Saúde.” (Sao oo djee)

    I noted the location by observing the next ranch we encountered (don’t recall the full name of the ranch but it had the word Horizonte in it) so I could report where we saw the cat.

    The Caiman staff said that jaguars near that location are extremely rare. Typical, unpredictable jaguar behavior and similar to the only jaguar I saw on the Transpantaneira Highway two years ago. It was near the entrance to the Mato Grosso Best Western, where my guide had never encountered a jaguar and did not expect to see one. And at those prices, I doubt the jaguar will ever return! (Just kidding, I’m sure the Mato Grosso Best Western is reasonably priced at it was a great place to stay.)

    Transfer Sighting #3: Not long after the jaguar, another spotted cat--this one much smaller--darted across the dirt road. It did not stop and look. We determined it was an ocelot. One of my guides said that in his 14 months at Caiman only once did he see a jaguar and an ocelot in one day.

    Transfer Sighting #4: A giant anteater crossed the road.

    Transfer Sighting #5: We were pulling into the Caiman Main Lodge area when a giant anteater came ambling along in the dusk. I frantically tried to open my dark tinted window, as the other guests had done at their seats, for a better view. One of the men even applied his brute force to the sliding window, but it wouldn’t budge.

    Not knowing if this was my only chance for a good anteater sighting, I shouted, “My window won’t open! I want to see the anteater but it’s too dark through this glass! Let me out of here so I can see the anteater! This is terrible! The windows don’t open!” The driver did not understand my rantings and my vehicle-mates were without reaction, so we just drove on as I shouted one of my other few Portuguese words, “Pare! Pare!” It means Stop! Stop! but we didn’t.

    Had I known I’d be privileged to see a total of 31 giant anteaters, I would have curtailed my distress. I would like to be able to write, “I saw 31 giant anteaters and have the photos to prove it,” but I actually have few photos of this species.

    About half the sightings were at night which hinders the photography; many were at dusk with the animal moving around a lot, also hindering photography. Some were at a distance of a couple hundred meters and most of the animals were shy during the daylight hours. The first anteater was spotted while we were going 65 mph; one darted across the road during the transfer; one had the stuck tinted window problem; one was partially submerged taking a bath; a couple were at night when the vehicle could not be turned off if the spotlight was to maintain power, so taking photos was out; one was part of a cattle stampede; one visited us at night after we watched hundreds of parrots bed down for the night in the trees; one was annoyed by a Rhea (a big bird); and 3 were babies holding onto their mothers’ backs.

    I know these excuses sound similar to forgetting to remove the lens cap and then being too frightened to focus when the alien spaceship lands in the backyard, resulting in scant photographic evidence.

    So the difference between Art Wolfe and me is that he sees one giant anteater and makes a flippin’ documentary out of it marching around in the sunset. I see 31 and can barely manage a keeper photo. Another difference is that for most of the 31 giant anteaters I was able to observe and appreciate the behavior of these fascinating creatures with my naked eye or binocs for prolonged periods under circumstances that may not produce a picture, but do produce a lasting memory.

    I thought I made a final gray-form jagarundi sighting in the headlights of the vehicle upon arrival at Caiman’s Cordliheira Lodge, but I was informed it was only a gray domestic house cat.

    The combination of the turmoil of the missed anteater, 38 hours of non-stop travel, a dark back seat of the van, and my flashlight packed away, resulted in me hopping out of the vehicle, sans binoculars. Obrigda to the driver, who did a vehicle search before heading out, for finding my binoculars.

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    Lynn: I think I had better start looking at the Pantanal as an upcoming destination. I had seen the Art Wolfe special and love the giant anteaters! Your slide show looks like you were at a zoo with the diverse amount of wildlife that you saw! Amazing. Thanks for sharing.
    Pat

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    Art Wolfe and his Pantanal episode are pretty popular, it looks like.

    QUOTE OF THE TRIP
    The guidebook, Brazil Amazon & Pantanal by David L. Pearson and Les Beletsky states: “If you have the great fortune to see…a Bared-faced Curassow in the Pantanal, count yourself among the lucky. It will be an indication that you are in pristine habitat, as these large, and unfortunately delicious, birds are easily hunted and thus rare in many areas.”

    Finding pristine habitat in the more populated ranching country of South Pantanal (I had seen several pairs of curassows in North Pantanal) was a bit of a concern of mine before departing. But Caiman and Ilha provided the pristine habitat and the Bare-faced Curassows that go with it. In fact, a highlight for me was spotting a pair along the edges of the forest from my balcony at Cordilheira Lodge at Caiman. I had two more sightings at Caiman, one of which provided photo ops, and one brief encounter with a male curassow on a canoe trip at Ilha. These sightings mean undisturbed, well protected habitat does indeed exist in the South Pantanal and I was privileged to visit it.

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    REFÚGIO ECOLÓGICAL CAIMAN ACCOMMODATION OPTIONS

    Main Lodge
    I initially requested not to stay at the 25-guest Main Lodge, thinking it would be too bustling with people and I’d see too little wildlife. Since it was being refurbished during my stay, Main Lodge was never an option anyway, but we stopped by a few times to find herds of grazing capybara, flocks of half a dozen Hyacinth Macaws, abundant birds, and an armadillo. Even when fully booked, I don’t think the comings and goings of the guests would disturb the animals that seemed to be oblivious to both me and the staff members that moved about.

    We did a lovely sunset canoe trip from Main Lodge on the big lake and also witnessed some interesting ranching activities at the nearby corral, which were definitely not a tourist show. The traditional cultural aspect of ranching in the Pantanal was most easily observable from Main Lodge. Usually it is the Main Lodge that is open year-round so if that was the sole option on a future trip, I’d be happy to stay there.

    Here’s another consideration regarding Main Lodge. The activities like horseback riding, some of the canoeing, and I think some of the walks depart from very near Main Lodge. As a result you are not spending much time using the vehicle as transport/safari to and from activities if you stay at Main Lodge. If less bouncing around on sometimes hot and dusty roads is appealing, then Main Lodge fits the bill. On the other hand, if you view every extra minute in the vehicle as increasing your odds of seeing something amazing, then Baiazinha at 9 kilometers away from the main lodge or Cordilheira at 13 kilometers may be more to your liking.

    Baiazinha (9 kms from Main Lodge)
    This is the smallest lodge with about 4 rooms accommodating 12. The interior looked nice with lots of deep blues and blacks for color and a view of the surroundings. I spent two afternoons there and found grazing herds of capybaras, integrated with 100 or so white lipped peccaries. Some Hyacinth Macaws hang out here and we saw Burrowing Owls, which often perched on the fence posts.

    There is a tower you can easily climb for views of more expansive vistas. The lake view from the back deck is beautiful, especially in late afternoon with green islands and blue water dotted with caiman, capybara, and wading birds. You can canoe here too, but the lack of rain made that activity impossible while I was there. For anybody thinking they may prefer to opt out of some of the three daily activities that go on at Caiman, I think this would be the place to park yourself with your binocs.

    Cordilheira (13 kms from Main Lodge)
    The lodge is set in an open area surrounded by Cordilheira Forest from which howlers serenade most mornings. From about December through April and often into June or July, there is a pond in the open field between the lodge and the forest, so this location offers both an active waterhole and forest habitat. Without rains, the pond area was bone dry during my stay. There was an observation tower, but it was under repair so I was not able to use it.

    This is the newest lodge, built in 1997 I believe, and in the last 5 years I was told the small creatures of the forest have come to accept it as part of their territory and are frequently seen on the premises. There was never an afternoon when I did not see coatis, agoutis, crab eating fox, or pampas deer on the grounds during siesta time—sometimes all of them. The relaxed demeanor of these creatures allowed for good observation and photo ops. The lovely Whistling Heron, a pair of Red Legged Seriemas, an occasional macaw or parrot, and the Bare-faced Curassows also made appearances. An ovenbird, the Rufous Hornero crafted its trademark oven-like nest on a branch that was easily viewed from the deck, or if you were feeling lazy, through the glass from the comfort of the air conditioned lounge. I even had a lone cow decide to graze under my balcony one day.

    Up to 16 guests could be accommodated at Cordilheira. The lounge and dining area was bright, cheerful, and nicely decorated; but more importantly, offered a good view of the surrounding environs. There were many hammocks strung up in the shaded center of the grounds and there was a roofed open-sided comfortable lounge.

    My room was great with its own hammock and deck chair on the balcony. I had Room #3. For the best views I think I’d rank the rooms, starting with the best as: #5, #4, #3, #6, #2, #1, but all those in the Cordilheira lodge had nice views. There were also two separate cottages adjacent to each other that I was told were “bigger rooms with bigger prices.” They seemed to have inferior views, though, even if the luxury within was greater.

    All the lodges seemed to be very comfortable and beautifully designed with a big screen TV for DVDs, a nice stereo that played Brazilian music, air conditioning in the lounge and room units that could be individually controlled, plus a ceiling fan. Laundry service was available for a small fee.

    The vehicles for each lodge are the same. Guests sit on comfortable seats in a horseshoe with the guide up front on a swivel seat. The field guide drives the truck, which is open for guests, but with canopy protection. The maximum capacity of 16 could occur if Cordilheira was booked to the max or if Main Lodge had 16 guests. It is rare to have that many at one time. We had 11 at most. I’ve included a photo of the vehicle.

    The menus are the same at all lodges and the food was outstanding--three excellent meals a day with numerous choices of Brazilian cuisine and international dishes. Always some vegetarian choices such as salads, vegetables, usually a main dish, fruit, cheese, and desserts, with bread and soup in the evening. I think coffee and tea were available throughout the day. For the main meal at 7:00 pm, there were about 10 total items to choose from. The homemade potato chips were mini works of art and my favorite entrée was the eggplant, tomato, and cheese dish.

    When I became the sole guest at the lodge, I insisted on reducing the immense variety of entrées, which still left meant lots of food. I thought it was interesting that the table was always set for three when my guide and I were the only ones eating. I was told it was done so we wouldn’t be lonely. Events that occurred later in my stay made me wonder if perhaps we were indeed being joined by a third diner, if in spirit only.

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    THE MAGNETIZED ACTIVITY BOARD, THE GHOST &
    THE AGITATED WHITE-RUMPED MONJITA

    A prominently displayed magnetized board reminds you of what is happening each day by placing customized activity magnets in the proper time slots. With three daily activities such as walking, vehicle safari, canoeing, or horseback riding, covering about 8 hours each day, the visual cue of the artistic magnets helps keep things straight. These activities are pretty much a set program undertaken by everyone in the lodge and not a smorgasbord to choose from. You could always opt out and stay back at whatever lodge you were at and enjoy the resident wildlife. I spent time at all three lodges and was impressed with the bird and mammal activity in their vicinity if that was your choice.

    For the practical joker who can plan ahead, I think it would be funny to bring a couple of your own refrigerator magnets and secretly stick them on the board randomly. Just be sure to pack the magnets far away from your camera. Such antics might end up being blamed on the Caiman ghost. There is more to come on this ghost.

    In June and July buffet breakfast starts 6:30 am, the first activity begins at 7:00 am. Lunch is noon. Dinner is 7:00-7:30 pm. The other activities vary as to time.

    On our first night we had a short PowerPoint orientation and welcome. When the presenter mentioned optional activities at additional cost, I became the White-Rumped Monjita with very ruffled feathers because I thought I might have to fork out more money after the fact to do what I had in mind. But rest assured there is no need to ruffle your feathers when you hear about the optional activities. The standard three outings each day are enough to see and do everything and will likely even necessitate a midday siesta.

    The extra options offered may change with the seasons, but what was offered to us was: Hyacinth Macaw Project fieldwork, accompanying the Pantaneiro cowboys on horseback as they herd cattle, taking a boat ride, going on a bird walk with a guide and a scope. I might have done the Macaw Project but the field work component was not available during my stay. I didn’t get into costs of these, but for the boat ride to be feasible, you’d need about 4 or 5 people to participate.

    At the Main Lodge when there are enough guests to warrant two vehicles and hence two schedules of activities, it might be possible to switch groups for the day if you preferred what the other group was doing over the plan for your own group. But that’s not a given. At Baiazinha and Cordilheira, there was just one plan for the day that you could join, decline and stay at the lodge, or book an alternate option at extra cost. The set activities are designed to show you the birds, mammals, and culture of the Pantanal and are well thought out. I enjoyed some of the activities more than others, but over a typical 3-night or 4-night stay, you really get immersed in the beauty of The Pantanal and all it has to offer.

    Now, when it came to the specific activities of horseback riding and canoeing, which together comprised our “Adventure Day,” there were some built-in alternatives offered because not everyone is a horse fan or comfortable in a canoe. Instead of the horse ride, you could take the transfer vehicle to the river destination. The transfer was not a safari, but you might see something. You could wait along the river and rest in the shade or birdwatch until the riders arrived. For the river part of Adventure Day, you could choose the wide, sturdy, 3-person canoe to go down river, where the front and back seat occupants paddled and the person in the middle seat could photograph or just look. Or instead of the canoe, you could opt for a motorboat with canopy protection from the sun. The motorboat transfer was swift, making just a few stops at major birds like the Cocoi Heron or a sizeable, sunning caiman, while the canoe was a leisurely hour plus trip.

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    Thanks for the photos, Lynn! You got some nice night time anteater shots (an day time ones too). I didn't know there were blond howlers. What kind of crab do the crab eating foxes eat? The coatis are very reddish there. Say "chaca chachalaca" three times. Holy flying capuchin! Nice ocelot. I didn't even manage a blurry pic in Belize.

    I was concerned about group numbers at Caiman too but if it's not a busy time, it doesn't sound bad at all. And if you can see wildlife right from the accommodations that's another plus. I'm very fond of "game sits" ;)

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    Thanks for the comments.

    The female howlers are blonde and the males are black. The juveniles tend toward the slight side.

    That's actually a good question on the foxes because it was pretty dry where and crab-free where they were running around . I think they'll expand their palates to include mice and creepy crawlies.

    Maybe the coatis are reddish because the soil is.

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    Well, Patty, you'll just have to rectify that ignorance by personally going down there and checking out the howlers and everything else.



    FASHION TIPS AND BEAUTY SECRETS OF THE PANTANAL ;)
    -Equestrian chic in the saddle or at the breakfast table
    For your safety, helmets are required for the horseback riding at Caiman. They are shiny black, which goes well with anything you’ve packed in your duffle bag. Of course everything goes well with a white rump.

    They were distributed according to head size before breakfast. I put my helmet on, adjusted the chin strap, and decided I’d wear it during breakfast for a laugh.

    My fellow tablemates (the four Brits who had shared the transfer van with me), had been rather subdued both during meals and out in the field, despite what I thought were some rather witty comments from our group of 11. However, the riding helmet at breakfast cracked them up. “Look at the crazy American lady eating breakfast!” one of them exclaimed and they all chuckled. I guess it took props to get a laugh out of that crowd.

    I had not originally planned to ride so all my trousers were zipoffs made of fast drying, slippery material. I thought these might be a problem with the zipper irritating my skin and the material causing me to slip around in the saddle, but they worked fine for me. Others who were in the same pants predicament as I was had no problem either. So unless you plan to ride the range with the Pantaniero cowboys, there is no need to pack a pair of heavier riding pants or jeans for the trail ride where the horses only walk.

    If your riding ensemble includes wearing your backpack, don’t put items in there that you’ll need to access frequently during the ride. Flipping the pack around to search through it scares the horses so you need to request assistance before retrieving items from it.

    Here is an additional headware hint: If you have a horseback riding and canoeing combo trip for Adventure Day, bring a wide brimmed hat with you on the horse even though you wear a riding helmet (which does have a brim to protect from sun). You can slip your wide brimmed hat down your back with the string around your neck or stick it in your backpack. You’ll need the hat when the trail ride is done and it is time for the canoe trip in the sun. I got my information mixed up and didn’t have my hat so I decided not to spend more time in the sun in the canoe and took the canopied motor boat down the river.

    -Buoyancy beauty
    Life vests are required for all canoe and boat rides at both Caiman and Ilha. We were given a cute camouflage-style vest that clips in the front. With all of us uniformly outfitted, it felt like we were Team Pantanal ready to compete in some kind of water sport.

    -The mosquito avoidance look
    The light, unseasonable rains in the dry season during my stay were responsible for the mosquitoes. Though I brought short-sleeved shirts, the couple of times I wore them on outings, I paid the price with many bites, despite insect repellant. Short sleeves were fine around the lodge, but I’d suggest long sleeves on other activities if there has been any rain at all. I never even considered shorts that would have exposed my legs to the mosquitoes.

    -Sports bras not needed
    Unlike some places that have extremely bumpy roads, I found the roads in the Pantanal to be smooth enough not to warrant a sports bra. The occasional off road trips were not frequent enough or lengthy enough that sports bras would be needed.

    -Pretty in poncho
    The resident guide at Refúgio da Ilha toted rain ponchos just in case. What a nice benefit. One day on our walk we all pulled them out and put them on when the occasional drop from the sky became a steady drizzle. Even if you bring your own rain gear, as I did, it’s handy to wear the ponchos so generously provided to keep your own stuff from getting drenched. The ponchos were camouflage, which I think is the new black! The smart, blousy, weather resistant look provided by the ponchos was only surpassed by the fact that the obliging guide folded up the darn things and put them back in their pouches when the rain stopped.

    -Eyeware after dark
    After my first trip to North Pantanal I recall putting in my report that something to protect the eyes on night drives, especially right after the sun goes down, is a good idea because of the many flying insects (far more than African night drives).

    Foolishly, I did not follow my own advice and ended up with a big bug injuring my eye that caused discomfort for a day and a half. More on the--literal--hairy details speculating about what may have flown into my eyeball in the section entitled Where’s Eyelaser when you need him?

    It’s not just me over reacting in recommending eye protection. San Francisco, the lodge near Ilha that specializes in night drives, requires protective glasses be worn throughout the drive.

    -Footware fashion
    Although I brought boots, there was really no need for them, as all the paths at Caiman and Ilha were flat and easy to walk on. Keens, Tevas, or anything open toed were discouraged for any of the walks and I can only imagine the bites you’d get with exposed skin on your feet. I never wore the Keens I brought, even on drives, but did wear them around the lodge.

    One of our walks during a light drizzle at Ilha resulted in mud caked shoes that I wouldn’t think of bringing inside so packing a spare pair of walking shoes is a good idea. I really considered just throwing out the socks I wore that day they were so full of mud, but couldn’t bring myself to discard a good pair of Wigwams. Instead they came home in a garbage bag and washed up fine.

    -Traditional makeup
    You may have the opportunity to try out some of the dyes that the Indians in the area used to create colorful painted faces. The red dye of the urucum seed is surprisingly bright but washes off immediately from skin or clothing. The blue dye of the jenipapo seed does not appear until hours after it has been applied and then remains for up to a week. It looks like a tattoo.

    -Helpful Hair Hint for travel to any remote location
    In my bathroom at Cordilheira I was using my small travel brush to vigorously brush through some difficult snarls that were the result of the wind whipping through my hair during safari drives. The resistance I encountered from my tangled hair flipped the removable brush head up into the air and sent it arcing into the toilet! “Oh sh!t!” Which fortunately was not descriptive of my predicament or the fishing expedition for the brush head would have been all the more unpleasant.

    Anyway, that was the end of my hairbrush so I was glad I had also brought a collapsible travel comb I had received on an overnight China Air flight a few years back. The lesson here is: unless you have a crew cut or are bald, always bring two devices to manage your locks in case something happens to one of them.

    One other time on a trip I lost a hairbrush and couldn’t figure out where or how—until I reviewed my photos when I got home and saw the gray brush sitting on a bedspread that was decorated with elephants. A case of camouflage.

    Because my brush incident happened early in the trip and I had to switch to the gift comb, for all the photos of me, it is “hair by China Air.” By the way, there are no photos of white rumps or any other color rumps, at least not those of homo-sapiens, despite the title of the report. But there is one shot of copulating white lipped peccaries.

    The brush in the toilet was the first of two notable experiences that occurred in the bathroom of Room #3 at Cordilheira. The second incident happened near the end of my stay.

    -Get shimmering streaks of gold and auburn highlights in every strand of rich textured, thick hair
    All you have to do is live like a capybara, which means daily swims, a diet of grass (Capybara means Masters of the Grasses), aquatic vegetation for dessert, and mating only in water. When the sun hits their coat just right it absolutely glistens. Some of the closeup capybara photos really illustrate this and may give you the incentive you need to follow the capybara glossy hair regimen.

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    TOURISM IS DOWN EVEN AT ONE OF THE 100 PLACES YOU MUST SEE BEFORE YOU DIE

    The slowdown has to do with the world economy and not the quality of experience at Caiman--which is one of those 100 places you must see before you die. But that’s not why I went there.

    For 2.5 days of my week at the 53,000 hectare Refúgio Ecológico Caiman, there were 11 of us, all staying at Cordilheira Lodge, which accommodates 16.

    For 2.5 days I was the only guest at the entire refuge and for 2 days there was just me at Cordilheira (I had the lodge to myself more or less) plus there was a family of 4 that flew in and booked Baiazinha Lodge for two nights.

    I state “more or less” for two reasons. First, on the afternoon of their one day at Caiman, the family all wanted to take showers at my lodge. I guess they felt they were too stinky from their morning excursion to continue without a shower stop. That was fine. There were plenty of bathrooms and lots of room. Second, though I was the only booked guest at Cordilheira, the presence of a guest in spiritual form manifested itself one night. The details are coming up later, but I wonder if the ghost did not make it to this must-see location in life, so he made a visit from the next world. Better late than never. Oooooo…..


    INSECT ENCOUNTERS OF THE GOOD AND BAD KIND
    On my previous Pantanal trip when the dry season acted like the dry season, there were very few mosquitoes. I did get several hundred puquin (tiny tick) bites all over my midsection, though in 2007. On this trip I made sure to keep my socks tucked into my shoes at all times and avoided all but a half dozen puqin bites. But the mosquitoes were heavy at times on walks in the woods and that is from someone who lives where the joke is that the mosquito is our state bird.

    During one walk at Ilha when the mosquitoes were particularly bad, I had to make a bush stop. In the low light of early morning, I stood out like a squatting White-Rumped Monjita summoning the mosquitoes to the breakfast bar. In fact it was on that walk that I requested a change in location from woods to marsh to escape the dozens of swarming companions that constantly hovered around us and landed at will. I was not wearing insect-proof clothing, but I did spray with Deet.

    I asked if people bring mosquito nets in the wet season when mosquitoes would be even more plentiful and the answer was that some people do. I think I would.

    One ironic insect encounter occurred in the garden at Ilha. I was trying to photograph butterflies that were landing in the flower garden, but having some difficulty zeroing in on them for a good shot. At the same time, many mosquitoes were doing their best to zero in on me for a meal and in turn, I was trying to zero in on them with a deadly swat. The final score of that encounter was: Butterfly photos 1, Dead mosquitoes 0, Bites on me (approximately) 4.


    If you look out across any of the fields at Caiman in the early morning and see what looks like dew on feathery weed stalks, look again. It may be fields full of spider webs that glisten from the morning dew in the first rays of the sun. If you are a spider fan, you can also seek out the talented spinners in the center of their creations, and if not, then you can admire the geometric designs from a distance. (I know spider are not technically insects.)

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    GREAT GUIDES—ALL THREE OF MINE WERE
    An English speaking, university trained biologist accompanies all groups at Caiman. In addition, there is a field guide who is local to the area. The field guide either drives the vehicle or boat, or leads the walks. Guides do one week on and one week off. Field guides are on a more tradition hour 8 day, 5 days a week schedule and you may have several field guides during a 3 or 4 night stay. I had 5 during my week, all very good and willing to be flexible. The guiding structure was highly productive for sightings and information and for employing local people.

    I started with Fabio, who had guided at Caiman for 14 months. He was with me for 2 days of group tours and for one day alone. I asked him what he did on his recent week off and he responded that he did the same things as on the job--he birdwatched and rode horses. That’s someone who loves his job and it showed.

    In our short time together we were able to share some unique and record-setting sightings, even for him. His favorite bird was the Crane Hawk and we had many nice views of this bird.

    The rest of the time at Caiman I had Daiane, a delightful young woman who had arrived at the refuge with a university degree and worked her way up the ranks from gift shop to guide. We really hit it off. I knew we would when she told me her favorite entrée was the eggplant, tomato, and cheese dish. Mine too.

    I even changed my favorite Pantanal bird to hers. While Roseate Spoonbills are still my favorite in a flock, I have to go with the Capped Heron for a single stunning specimen.
    Of course the Hyacinth Macaw is an icon of the area, not just a species, so that’s in a category by itself. And the Jabiru stork is so big, that it is barely a bird and is tops in the Big Bird category. Since I paid for the trip, I can make the favorite category rules.

    The White-Rumped Monjita is a little too plain of a bird for my favorites list, but it is fun to talk about. The Brazilian guides often pronounced it in two syllables: “rum-ped.” For those of us who think announcing sightings of white rumped birds is funny, calling them “rum-ped” borders on hilarious.

    Seriously, I was not constantly snickering about bird rumps on the trip, making a fool of myself, and thereby tarnishing the reputations of all travelers from the USA who might follow me. I actually believe I conducted myself in a respectable, civilized manner. It’s more in retrospect--now that I am home and reflecting on my wonderful travels--that the juvenile tendency toward butt-based humor comes rushing forth.

    Fernanda, my private guide was excellent as well. We immediately started our search for wildlife on the 2 hour drive--mostly on good dirt roads--between Refúgio Ecológico Caiman and Refúgio da Ilha. When something interesting was spotted (usually by Fernanda) the car quickly halted, out came the scope, and in no time we had a brilliant close up view of the American Kestral, Bat Falcon, and White Monjita.

    I could have used this bird, the White Monjita, in the title of the report but chose not two for two reasons. (1) I’d miss out on all the rump nonsense and (2) it would be a slightly less accurate description on account of my tan lines.

    It was a privilege to spend three days with Fernanda, who has a captivating personality in addition to superb spotting talent, a wealth of knowledge, and fine skills with the scope to focus on any subject lickety-split.

    I was only in the Pantanal 10 days, but started feeling as if I belonged to an extended family. Daiane’s boyfriend was also a guide at Caiman, and while I did not meet him, I met his brother at the Lasso Competition and the brother’s baby son when they rode in together on a horse. I saw the boyfriend’s sister, who oversees the Caiman main gate. And at San Francisco Lodge for the night drive, I was given instructions to look up the boyfriend’s other brother who drove the truck there. I was greeted by Brother #2 with the traditional Brazilian kiss like I was a long lost auntie. Fernanda, had recently returned from a nature holiday with Daiane and the boyfriend. A tight knit community in the Pantanal, for sure. It was fun to get a glimpse into it.

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    Thanks for the hint about packing multiple hair taming devices. I don't understand the part about "socks tucked into shoes." What does that mean above and beyond wearing socks?

    We're awaiting more helpful hints from the legendary princess of the Pantanal.

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    Great photos. Loved the coatis especially and the caiman close-ups. I can't believe you say you didn't get good anteater shots!

    As usual, lots of helpful, practical information here too, including some for those of us inclined to fling hairbrushes into commodes, etc.

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    Leely, You have that hairbrush flinging tendency too? I think we need a support group. I'm glad the anteater shots meet your approval. I guess I was looking for one who would wink at the camera and wave.

    Marija, I love the princess title. I may have cards printed up with that on it.

    I meant socks tucked into my PANT LEGS. You are right, that socks tucked into shoes is the conventional way of wearing them.

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    ANIMALS/ACTIVITIES DAY BY DAY


    A complete bird list will appear at the end. While each bird sighting is not detailed, the majority of our time in the field was spent looking at various birds rather than mammals.

    *****Friday 26 June*****
    About 6:15 at sunrise
    A pair of crab eating fox trotted around near the lodge on their morning rounds, offering great views.

    7:00-12:00 -Vehicle safari for 11
    The first sighting each day was usually the Pampas deer that live along the road near the gate to Cordilheira. The Pampus deer are not common, but seeing them is easy at Cordilheria Lodge. Next we had a Rhea strolling along next to a cow, the perfect scene to illustrate the union between Pantanal ranching culture and Pantanal wildlife. A giant anteater made an appearance.

    We stopped by the Main Lodge for a short program on the Hyacinth Macaw Project. The numbers in the Pantanal have increased from 1500 to 5000 as a result. An important aspect of the program is to rehabilitate injured macaws. There happened to be one in a cage out back convalescing and about half a dozen healthy free-flying Hyacinth Macaws were visiting their injured buddy, perched outside of the cage. Now that is some amazing bird behavior.

    We had two six banded armadillo sightings--one right at the lodge entrance--and we spent a lot of time watching caiman.

    3:30-5:30 –5 Minute Drive & Forest Walk for 9
    We encountered a red footed tortoise ambling around. Although we switched places in line frequently, it paid to be in the front of the group when we came to a clearing and saw a pair of Bare-Faced Curassow scurrying into the brush.

    The birding coup of the trip occurred as we exited the forest into a large field. Our attention was attracted by two large birds of prey in a tree about 200 meters away. Fabio immediately became very excited and started trotting toward the distant birds for a better look through his binocs. A trotting guide is a sure sign of something special.

    “Black and White Hawk Eagle!” he shouted excitedly. We all got good looks at the big black birds with white heads, perched in the tree. Eventually they took off and flew gracefully out of sight. Fabio and Field Guide Nego gave each other some congratulatory high fives, further indicating to the rest of us the rarity of this sighting. Only once before had Fabio seen the Black and White Hawk Eagle.

    8:30-11:00 pm – Night Drive Extravaganza for 11
    This may have been the most exciting night drive I have done anywhere. We started with a spotlit Great Potoo, the owl-like bird that does a great imitation of a branch.

    Then the giant anteater show began. Within an hour, we saw 10 of them—9 adults and a lucky sighting of a baby clinging to its mother’s back, from which we kept our distance. With each sighting Fabio would state, “Giant anteater, endangered species,” and then chuckle at how his statement did not jibe with the many anteaters we were seeing. The safe haven that Refúgio Ecológico Caiman offers this endangered species has allowed it to thrive.

    Ten giant anteaters was even a record for Fabio, as eight had been his previous high for a single outing. What was great luck for us was less lucky for the ants and termites in the vicinity as giant anteaters can consume 30,000 of the insects a day.

    We had the opportunity to contrast the giant anteater with the lesser anteater when we spotlighted one of those as well.

    After the anteater action, we drove around to find many crab eating foxes and then a beautifully posed, statuesque ocelot. The light shone only on the cat, but we could hear leaves rustling and followed the cat’s gaze toward the noise in the darkness. Suddenly the ocelot pounced several meters in the direction of the rustling leaves and the chase was on. The cat pursued a diminutive Brazilian rabbit in what could have been a choreographed scene from a stage play. The rabbit led the ocelot on a serpentine path that moved from stage left to stage right, all in a clearing surrounded by curtains of dark forest. The lighting crew (Fabio) should win an academy award for technical expertise because his skill kept the entire pursuit visibly lit. It ended with the ocelot grabbing the rabbit in its mouth and exiting into the darkness. Fabio stated that was one of his three best sightings at Caiman. Finding a hunting ocelot in the wild is almost impossible; witnessing a successful hunt, even more rare.

    We topped off our night by spotlighting the odd and mysterious Boatbilled Heron.

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    *****Saturday 27 June-Adventure Day for 11 of us*****

    7:00 – 8:00 Safari drive to horses
    We had our daily dose of pampas deer and rhea and stopped for a trio of Campo Flickers pecking on a tree. These are some very cool birds that turned into one of my favorite photos of the trip.

    8:00-9:00 Saddling up
    We could use this time before mounting our horse, to wander around and watch the morning unfold on this farm/ranch. There were quite a few pigs roaming around and the butchering of a recently slaughtered pig was also underway on the other side of the fence.

    9:00-12:00 Horse ride
    The horses were in great condition and responsive, though we maintained a single file line at a walk. The only Yellow-Rumped Caciques of the trip were seen on this ride, along with about three Toco Toucans and Troupials. We rode to a beautiful part of the reserve.

    I was told during May and June the horse rides are longer for some reason and that during some months you ride through water, which would be cool. I had my camera with me but took no photos while riding.

    Midway through our ride we stopped, dismounted, and took a break, at which time we had the opportunity to observe or to actually partake in a cultural tradition that shows the Paraguayan influence in The Pantanal. I’ll let it remain a secret but it was nothing gross or offensive. Certainly nothing like what the Pantaneiro cowboy must do if he comes upon a feral pig, as described below in our drive to Baiazinha Lodge.

    As we closed in on the third hour in the saddle, in the heat of the day with mosquitoes buzzing, I was really ready to see or hear signs of the river that signaled the next phase of our Adventure Day.

    12:00- 1:00 Canoeing or Canopy Covered Motor Boat
    We dismounted, put on a life jacket, and hopped into a sturdy, 3-person canoe for the hour long paddle down river. I opted for the motor boat because I had not brought my hat by mistake and wanted to avoid more sun exposure. The motorboat transfer took about 10 minutes.

    1:00-2:30 Sao Domingo
    We arrived at Sao Domingo, our downstream destination, which was brimming with wildlife even midday. There was an agouti scurrying across the open field, herds of grazing capybara that tolerated curious guests, caiman basking in the sun, and monk parakeets repairing their giant nests. So there was plenty to observe until the others arrived from the hour-long canoe part of their adventure. In addition to the animals and birds, there was a lovely lunch. After lunch, we could continue checking out the resident wildlife or we could take a nap in a shaded hammock.

    2:30-3:45 Safari drive back to Cordilheira
    We finally saw our first Jabiru stork and had a reasonable photo op for a giant anteater in the distance. Various guests all got credit for spotting three separate armadillos, one that was having a standoff with a Caracara. Another standoff that afternoon involved a flock of Guira Cuckoos and a Savanna Hawk. Feeling a bit competitive, I wanted to spot my own armadillo.

    We halted next to a small roadside pond and Fabio pointed out some little lumps sticking out of the water. They were baby caiman eyes peeking out. Mama caiman was in the center. Caimans nurture and protect their young, unlike some reptilian species. But I was told in tough times with inadequate food, the mothers will resort to eating their young. The lack of rain had been continually mentioned as contributing to a very tough environment for caimans this year. I wondered about the fate of the cute little lumps peeping through the murky water.

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    *****Sunday 28 June *****
    At this point the “Bill Gates Tours” began. Since I was the only guest, I had all private excursions, as I imagine Bill Gates could do if he visited Caiman. Although, he might let Melinda come along.

    7:00-10:30 Walk, departing our lodge, in search of Black and Gold Howler Monkeys

    Each monkey is not Halloween-colored with black and gold fur. The males are black and the females are gold.

    Thousands of spider webs glistened with morning dew as we walked across the field to the nearby forest. We went to the tree preferred by the howlers but they had moved on. As Fabio and the Field Guide Nego tried to think like a howler and figure out where they went, we encountered some agoutis, and a variety of birds such as the Red Billed Scythebill, the Pale Crested Woodpecker, and the Plush Crested Jay.

    Eventually they located the howlers who had been silent for over an hour. We saw black male, gold female, and brownish juvenile members of the troop. It had not been easy to locate them and the guides did a private little fist bump in celebration.

    As a bonus, we also located some brown capuchins to the displeasure of the dominant male, who rocked back and forth and thrust his neck at us from his perch high up in the tree.

    If we had done a group walk, I think everyone would have been able to view both species of monkeys. They appeared for longer than a fleeting glance.

    2:00 – 7:00 Drive to Baiazinha Lodge and night drive back
    At the approach of our vehicle, a feral pig fled its mud puddle and sought the safety of tall reeds. It had better flee because if a Pantaneiro cowboy came upon it, this is what would likely happen: It would be lassoed and tied, then its tail would be bobbed, its ears notched, and if male, it would be castrated. Then it would be set free. The idea is that a castrated feral pig tastes better than one with all his equipment. The ear notching and tail bobbing are done to alert the next cowboy who sees the pig that it can be killed and eaten--and it will be tasty, having been castrated. Since feral pigs are non-native they are allowed to be killed.

    The wind picked up just in time to for us to witness it whipping through the crests of a flock of Whistling Herons.

    As we arrived at the vacant Baiazinha Lodge, we found a herd of about 30 capybara mingling with a herd of almost 100 white lipped peccaries. Burrowing Owls like this location and there were several perched on the fence post. We climbed the observation tower and found a Palm Tanager at the top.

    We watched the sun go down on the lake from the deck behind the lodge and observed hundreds of pairs of parrots flying high in the sky to one of the distant trees that served as the parrot hotel.

    On our night drive back we glimpsed our first crab eating raccoon and a red brocket (a deer). We often had seen gray or brown brockets, but this was the first red one. The difference between the brown/gray and red brockets was not their color (they were all brown/gray), but the black stripes on the back of the legs of the red brocket.

    Good eyes by the driver saved a young fer-de-lance crossing the road. We stopped and it quickly slithered out of sight. That’s the most poisonous snake in The Pantanal.

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    What great sightings! Back to the socks--do you mean tucking the pant leg into the sock? If so, gotta get some longer socks as well as the goggles for eye protection. Unfortunately, inspired by watching Art Wolfe in the Pantanal, Bruce is packing his Akubra in the hopes that he'll look like a Pantanero...

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    *****Monday 29 June*****

    6:00-6:30 Of Rheas and Rifleman
    I went out to shoot some sunrise photos. I kept thinking about last night’s fer-de-lance and so I was high stepping it through the grass. For protection, I thought I should mimic the sound of a Rhea, which eats snakes. I couldn’t make the low base sounds of the male Rhea and I didn’t know their other calls, so I improvised and started to hum as an alert to any nearby poisonous snakes. I found myself humming the tune from Rifleman (that old show with Chuck Connors) as I maneuvered through the grass and snapped sunrise photos. “Where did that song come from?” I wondered.

    Later in the day it hit me and I marveled at my subconscious. There is a line from Rifleman that my husband and I say when we go on autumn walks at home in the late afternoon and see the occasional, harmless snake slither across our path. The line refers to when snakes are out and about, “While the sun’s still out, before the ground gets cold.” It’s the only line I know from Rifleman besides son Mark saying, “Pa.”

    I bid farewell to Fabio and thanked him for our memorable sightings and I met Guide Daiani, who was with me for the remaining time at Caiman.

    7:00-10:50 In search of the Spectacled Owls and the Blue Crowned Mot Mot
    We drove about 15 minutes and began our walk. There was excellent bird activity and even an agouti. Daiani and I were intrigued by a pair of Hyacinth Macaws making a nest in a hole in the Manduvi Tree, the tree of choice for the species 95% of the time.

    Field Guide Nego called to us that he had found the Spectacled Owls and we quietly made our way to him and peered through thick vines and branches to spot a magnificent pair. One flew off and about five minutes later the mate followed. Nego found their new perching location, which offered better views, and we marveled at them for half an hour. Had there been a larger group on the walk, I think all the participants would still have been able to see the owls with such a long viewing timeframe. Of course, they’d all have to remain silent and fairly still. What a privilege to see such magical creatures.

    Our next mission was to walk to another part of the forest in search of the Blue Crowned Mot Mot. The activity we witnessed in the morning had ceased completely. No Mot Mot, no birds, no sounds, no nothing. After an hour of pleasant walking in a completely quiet forest, Daiani decided to give the vehicle a try.

    We drove to an area that jaguars were known to like. We did not see them, but did find a family of howlers with a mother, baby on her back, and the father all huddled together watching us. We even noticed some nurturing caresses bestowed by the male upon the youngster. It was a Norman Rockwell of the howler world.

    On the drive back, I fulfilled my armadillo spotting goal, finding two of our three sightings.

    3:00 – 7:30 Canoeing at Sunset
    We drove to the lake near Main Lodge for a canoe trip. Enroute I got my only pictures of a Bare-faced Curassow couple pecking in the leaves at the edge of the forest. This is one species where I believe the female has more attractive plumage than the male. A herd of grazing caypbara greeted us when we arrived at the lodge.

    The canoe outing was a beautiful, relaxing activity—all the more so because I had the middle seat and could just enjoy the peaceful tranquility of it all. Daiani and Field Guide Lucien did the rowing. In addition to the sunset, we had some nice bird sightings, especially kingfishers and the White Headed Marsh Tyrant.

    On our night drive return trip, we saw a couple of giant anteaters, some White Collared Peccaries, and a Barn Owl. While Barn Owls are not that rare where I come from (Midwest USA), it was the first Lucien, a native of the Pantanal, had seen. He later asked to see my digital photo of it to be sure it was not a Potoo. It was exciting to be an integral part of Lucien’s first Barn Owl sighting.

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    *****Tuesday 30 June*****

    5:30 -10:00 am Breakfast at the Lake near the Stables
    Daiani generously and enthusiastically agreed to some earlier starts as part of the Bill Gates Tour, so we were off at 5:30 am that morning, spotlighting on the way. We saw a lesser anteater end its night shift by ambling to the tree it called home, climbing up, and disappearing into a cavity. That was great fun and an example of what departing before daybreak can produce.

    Next, it was Daiaini’s turn for a “Lifer” sighting—the Aplomado Falcon. This is one sharp dressed bird.

    Most of the morning was spent walking around the small lake surrounded by caiman and looking at birds. We saw the first of three pairs of Brazilian Teals, which should only be present in the dry season. Odd. Some recently hatched caiman eggs were an exciting find. We discovered a baby Great Black Hawk on the ground with its mother anxiously hopping around. We were hopeful that we had come upon one of the chick’s first flying lessons and that it was not injured. We’ll never know.

    Oblivious to us and the wildlife around us, were grazing horses, some of whom may have carried us on the trail ride. The gorgeous scene made a nice backdrop for photos of the truck, in which we had breakfast on a handy folding table.

    On the drive back to Cordilheira we stopped at the roadside pond with the baby caiman. This time I was allowed to get out and approach the pond for a better look at those cute little lumps peeking through the water. Some were even huddled together, probably just for warmth, but it gave the appearance of reptilian bonding.

    3:30- 6:45 Walk & Drive & Anteater in a Stampede
    Daiani found a juvenile howler in a tree and tapir tracks on the ground. We heard the xylophone sounds from the beating wings of the Crested Oropendula’s mating dance. But not much else was happening so we decided to end the walk and start the drive.

    We found good views of three Lineated Woodpeckers, of which I could get two in a picture. A pair of Jabiru Storks followed. We ended up at Main Lodge about sunset, when the Hyacinth Macaws congregate. To get a picture of one of them in the sunset, required crawling under the fence.

    Next, we tried to find a giant anteater and were successful. We had just started to enjoy this creature when I looked up to see a stampede of cattle running toward us and the anteater. “Oh my God! The cows are attacking the anteater!” I thought. “We have to save it!” About that time the cattle’s attention was diverted to our large vehicle and they began to surround us. “Forget the anteater, we need to save ourselves,” I silently panicked. Daiani could read my expression and offered some assurances that the cows were merely curious and were running to meet up with another herd that was fenced next door. There was no mal intent on the cows’ part toward the anteater or us; it was just the cows wanting to be social, as herd animals will do.

    We had a perfect spotlit view of an ocelot, very relaxed, walking along the fence. Daiani kept the light on it for beautiful views. I was glad I had two eyeballs to watch it because that was not the case later in the evening.

    Where’s Eyelaser (an esteemed poster on Fodors) When you Need Him?
    I was sitting in the vehicle on the night drive when something huge flew into my eye. It knocked me down so that I was doubled up on the seat, holding my right eye. It took me several minutes to recover and I could tell I had something in my eye. Eventually I rubbed the debris out of my eye. I felt there was still some lingering injury but the vision was not impaired whatsoever.

    What could the missile have been? Maybe a bat? Or maybe a wasp transporting a tarantula? I’m not joking about the wasp and tarantula. There is a large species of wasp that will seize a tarantula and fly it back to the wasp nest, not to eat but to lay wasp eggs inside the tarantula body, so that the hatching wasp larvae receive nourishment by feeding on the spider. My guide in 2007 had even seen a couple of “flying tarantulas.” I hope I have not scared off any Arachnophobics from ever setting foot in Brazil.

    Since I did not detect any furry spiders scurrying around on my zipoffs after the impact, I figured it was probably not the wasp and tarantula duo that hit me, which would be highly unlikely, but makes for a harrowing tale. I had about 36 hours of self diagnosed corneal abrasion (the third case in my life). It was quite irritating and uncomfortable and I kept the right eye closed as much as possible.

    Turning white as the rump of a White-Rumped Monjita
    On my first day at Caiman, several staff members had presented a formal and informal overview of what to expect. Somehow the topic of ghosts and spirits that inhabit the premises came up. I was told that several field guides had heard their names called out in the night; very often alarm clocks would sound at the wrong hour, despite having been set correctly; mysterious human figures would appear and disappear; and other strange happenings were common.

    I am not superstitious and am clearly grounded in the tangible, verifiable, science-based laws of nature, though I have an open minded. A haunted refuge seemed to me to be just an intriguing story.

    My alarm went off in the night, not repeatedly just a few notes. I sat up and looked at the clock—2:15 am. What the heck? It was still set properly for 4:45 am. Now why would it go off? Still groggy, the ghost stories I had heard the first night were the furthest thing from my mind.

    Next, my attention shifted to my eye and I noted it still was watering and felt scratched. But I couldn’t expect it to be healed in only a few hours. I decided to use the bathroom since I was up and awake. After I had finished my task I heard singing through the open, screened window that was located near the high ceiling of the bathroom. The window led to the hallway, not to outside. The voice belonged to a young male and sounded as if he were recounting a tale in melodic form, but not in English. The accent sounded like Portuguese to me (but who knows?) and I could not recognize any words. The singing was soft and muffled, as if there were a barrier between the singer and me. “The chef must be up early,” I thought to myself, “and singing as he gets the meals for the day underway. ”

    The serenade lasted about 20 seconds. As I made my way back to bed and started to assess what had occurred, I froze and turned as white as the rump of the Monjita. The alarm going off, then the muffled singing--it had to be the ghost. None of this encounter was frightening or upsetting, so I just went back to bed with the intent of finding out if the staff had been singing in the night, which would mean there had been no ghostly goings on.

    Now, my subconscious may have been responsible for choosing to hum the Rifleman theme song when alerting the fer-de-lances and other poisonous snakes lurking in the grasses that I was coming through. But I was fully conscious and aware when I heard the signing by someone else. No dreaming or sleepwalking.

    The next day I explained what had happened and asked Daiani to inquire if there had been any singing staff members the previous night. I emphasized to her that I was not mad at being awakened because I was already up. I didn’t want anyone denying their actions for fear of rebuke for waking up a guest.

    The answer was that while Daiani, a woman, shared accommodations in the same facility, the rest of the staff all were housed in the next building, where they could not be heard by us. The only music playing the night before had been through the headphones of the chef’s ipod at 11:00 pm before he retired in the staff facility. And I had heard voice only, not musical instruments.

    So the ghost had paid me a visit. Lucky me! There was speculation as to who/what the ghost/spirit was. One of the theories involved the Paraguay War, as it is called in Brazil, or the Triple Alliance War, which lasted from 1864 to 1870. It was one of the bloodiest battles in Latin American History. Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil were pitted against Paraguay. In addition to massive deaths due to war, there were epidemics such as cholera. About half the population of Paraguay perished. Perhaps this was a lost soul who had died in battle or from disease. But the gentle song I had heard gave no indication of distress or anguish.

    I hope I have not scared away both Arachnaphobics and Phasmophobics, those afraid of ghosts.

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    Marija, it is interesting you ask because in my next installments I mention wanting to have a farewell Caipirinha but I declined so I'd be 100% sober in case the ghost showed up. I had no alcohol my entire stay at Caiman.

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    *****Wednesday July 1*****

    5:00 – 8:00 am Spotlight drive to Parrot Trees
    We saw our second crab eating raccoon enroute to the trees where the parrots sleep. We had to arrive before sunrise to see them depart en masse. It was a noisy scene when the parrots all awoke. Some of the parrots hung around and shared a “wake up and take off tree” with several Hyacinth Macaws, Caracaras, and Toucans. With the Rheas leaping from the ground for low hanging fruits, it was a bird paradise and a lovely spot for breakfast on the collapsible table.

    8:00- 10:50 Lasso Competition
    After the birds had all taken to the skies we headed to the corral near the Main Lodge and watched the cowboys in action, separating the friskiest calves from the general herd. This was in preparation for the Lasso Competition that would take place the next week (first week in July each year) at Caiman. It was a very big deal that brought in the best cowboys from the area. All of the calves that would be lassoed in the competition had to be “trained” so they knew where to run when released and they were familiar with being pursued by a rope twirling Pantaneiro.

    The first step was driving the cattle across the big bridge, so Daiane got me positioned in a good spot to photograph the approaching cattle and watch them cross the bridge. Then the cattle were herded to the big corral, surrounded by spectator stands, where the competition would take place. Fabio was on his week off so he was there to watch the lassoing, along with several other staff members.

    First small groups of calves were driven by strategically placed cowboys along the length of the corral to a gate on the far end. After several runs to teach the calves the procedure, the cowboys (which included some women and even young girls) would ride after the calves and loosely throw a lasso over their heads that would then slip off the running calf. The idea was to accustom the cows to the lasso. The rope-and-tie part would happen in the competition. One calf after the next was released, all part of the training process, and it was quite exciting to see the skill of the cowboys and cowgirls with their lassos.

    By midmorning the spectators were ready for a traditional drink. Tea leaves were mashed with water in a hollowed out cow horn, which served as a cup. The drink was sipped through metal straw.

    I felt lucky to be able to witness this important cultural event. Especially appealing was that I saw the fascinating preparation prior to the actual crowd drawing event. If incorporating such a cultural experience into a Pantanal visit was of interest, you could plan your trip about the same time as I did (last days of June) for the lasso practice, or a week later for the actual competition.

    The community center next to the corral where the competition took place was decorated in colorful streamers for the upcoming 16th Festa do Hoça. Food for the festivities was also being prepared and when scraps were tossed into the open field, flocks of Caracaras descended to grab a morsel.

    Our drive back to Cordilheira produced two collared peccaries, an agouti, and the same feral pig in his mud bath. With the cowboys focused on the Lasso Competition, the pig’s ears, tail, and privates were all still intact.

    The weak and the wounded
    Unlike most days when I watched for wildlife around the lodge during siesta time, I spent midday in my room with a patch over my scratched eyeball (I had brought gauze and tape) as a reminder to keep it closed. At one point through my good eye I could see a Yellow Headed Vulture circling above my hammock. “Oh no,” I worried, “my eyeball injury may be far worse than I thought.”

    Later in the afternoon I saw one of the crab eating foxes limping and hoped the vulture was not after it, either.

    3:00 – 6:45 pm Back to Baiazinha
    On the drive there, by chance we saw the last woodpecker species that I had not yet found in the Pantanal—the White Woodpecker. We also saw a red footed tortoise, a couple of white collared peccaries, and some coatis. Along with a few snacks, we enjoyed the beautiful views from the deck of Baiazinha and strolled around the property. A brilliant rainbow was made visible by cooling showers in the distance.

    About the time that the giant anteaters would be coming out, we drove to where it would be likely to see them and where we had seen the 10 on my first night. The changing weather changed the habits of the giant anteaters and we found none.

    So we headed out with the spotlight and noticed a definite lack of activity, indicating it was not just the giant anteaters that changed their habits . But before we arrived at the lodge, we managed to spotlight three giant anteaters where they normally would not be found.

    I had planned on ordering a farewell Brazilian Caipirinha, a drink made from limes, sugar, and Cachaca liquor. In fact Cordilheira whipped up their own passion fruit version of this libation that looked quite refreshing. But if the ghost decided to visit again that night, I wanted to be completely sober so nothing could be attributed to alcohol.

    Well, my crooning spirit stood me up, so I should have had the drink. Maybe I should have had several and the mysterious spirit would have done more than sing to me, we could have danced the tango on my balcony.

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    *****Thurs July 2*****

    5:20-8:00 am Last Caiman Outing
    We encountered a crab eating raccoon again on our way to watch the birds wake up. This time the “wake up and take off tree” had more Toucan action and less Macaw. I also noticed three Campo Flickers that I had missed the day before. One pair of Blue Fronted Parrots were clasping claws and forming a circle with their two arced bodies. Entwined in their claws were pink blossoms from a nearby Piuvia Tree. It looked like some kind of parrot matrimony ritual.

    On our return to the lodge a pair of Red Legged Seriemas caught my eye near the main gate facility. We stopped so I could get some portraits of their classic good looks and then a fox came trotting through the flowering shrubs, which caught the eye of each Red Legged Seriemas. I was just about ready to wrap it up when a six banded armadillo strolled onto the scene. Lots of action at the main gate.

    Proceeding on, we had our best views yet of the Capped Heron (new favorite Pantanal bird) with its delicate blue face. A male Bare-faced Curassow was momentarily visible along the road, a pair of Jabiru Storks were strutting around, a few collared peccaries nervously ran for shelter, and an entire herd of white lipped peccaries grazed in the open.

    Discreetly distancing themselves from the bulk of the herd was a pair of mating peccaries. White lipped peccaries are the favorite food of the jaguar, so replenishing the herd was a necessity. (Jaguars like beef too and kill about 400 head of cattle at Caiman each year. This loss is accepted because the jaguars also bring in visitors.)

    Final Stroll and Caiman Goodbyes
    I took a last stroll down the pampas deer road to the Cordilheira Gate and bid farewell to the Rheas that were present. Walking the quarter mile to the gate was fine, but posted signs warned against venturing beyond without notifying the staff.

    I finished packing, had lunch, and sadly said Adeus to Daiani.
    And Olá to Fernanda. Within moments of meeting Fernanda, I could tell I would thoroughly enjoy our next four days together.

    We had just started our journey under threatening skies that released a few angled beams of light, when a pair of toucans landed on bare branches. A nice photo op. The results looked like a Henri Rousseau painting when all I did was point and shoot.

    Arriving at Refúgio da Ilha (translated to Island Refuge) was like entering a magical retreat on the Salobra River. My comment in the guest book was, “a refuge for wildlife and the nature lover.” The location, the landscape architecture, and the interior design all contributed to the insulated, immersed in nature effect.

    The food was great, including the daily picnic breakfast that we enjoyed in the vehicle or boat. They definitely do vegetarian because a family that ran a vegetarian yoga retreat was visiting during my stay so I sampled a large variety of their fine veggie cuisine.

    Amigo, the friendly—but not too friendly—resident black lab-type dog added to the hospitable atmosphere. The lodge has 7 lovely rooms.

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    US dollars were fine. The International Expeditions info suggested $5-$10 per person for the guide. Of course the info was written for a group trip with about 10 or more. Since I got the Bill Gates tour for 1, I kept that in mind when tipping.

    There were envelopes in the rooms at Caiman that stated something like,"At the Main Lodge write the name of who you want to give the tip to and hand it to the main desk. At the other lodges, give the tip directly to the person you want."

    I gave my guides Fabio and Daiani an envelope. Then for everybody else which included 5 different Field Guides, who I would not be seeing again, I put the money in the envelope and wrote "For all staff except main guides and for and Field Guides: x, y, z, a, and b" and gave it to Daiani. She said there was a formula for distributing it.

    At Ilha, I gave something to Fernanda, my private guide; Edson the resident guide; and the staff. They did not have any boxes or envelopes that I could find so for the staff tip I gave it to the owner's son.

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    ****Fri July 3*****
    3:30-6:45 pm Not more Anteaters!
    Fernanda brought her scope and secured us good seats in the approximately 8-passenger open safari vehicle that contained 6 passengers plus driver up front, and resident guide, Edson, hanging on the back.

    A mother anteater with a very young, almost hairless baby was quite a distance away, but in the scope I could reach out and hug that hairless little bugger. We also came upon an adult anteater taking a bath in a waterhole. Through the scope, I was right there in the bathtub with it. It was really rolling around and splashing, having a good old time. Its tail was still wet and dripping in the after-bath photos. Yet another anteater was approachable on foot at about 50 meters as the light was getting low. One anteater might have provided us with some good viewing but it was being crowded by a Rhea so it moved off.

    Our destination that night was a parrot tree where hundreds of parrot couples slept for the night. In the low light, but through the scope, we had great views of the flocks flying to the tree and settling in. With the naked eye we enjoyed a pink cloud sunset.

    When the light had expired, we could see two forms moving toward us beyond the fence. It was a mother and baby giant anteater. She must have caught wind of us because she made shrill calls to her baby to hop in her back. Together they moved off into the darkness. Now that was a fantastic audio-visual sighting!

    We found another couple of giant anteaters at night on our return to Ilha. The spotlight required the vehicle be left running so we enjoyed viewing rather than photography.

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    The above is still on
    ****Friday July 2****
    It was the eve of our arrival at Ilha.


    ****Fri July 3***** for real
    6:15-11:45 am The Refúgio da Ilha Special—time on the river—upstream boat ride
    Fernanda requested an earlier than normal departure which was agreeable to Resident Guide Edson and the photographer nephew of the owners.

    The Giant River Otters that frequent the Salobra (and that Ilha is known for) had been elusive prior to my arrival and our only brief sighting of two of them was this morning. A high water level in the river was responsible for their scarcity. Lower water levels increase the sightings because the otters spend more time in the river and less in the lakes formed by the river. Although there had been little rain locally, there had been flooding further north. The Rio Negro flows from the north to feed into the Salobra and therefore water levels were very high during my stay.

    But it was mating season for the less common Neotropic Otters and we saw a dating couple along with two individuals. We also saw one capybara scurry up the banks; a couple of marsh deer, one in the presence of a Jabiru Stork; some acrobatic brown capuchins; a few drops of rain and a rainbow; an array of kingfishers; and a showstopper—the Anaconda. It was coiled and sunning itself on the bank and remained undisturbed throughout our stop. Wow!

    There were other wow moments, though. We had numerous great views of the infrequently seen Gray-headed Kite and we saw a rare, more primitive form of Caiman. There was a single smooth fronted caiman hiding in the reeds. It had obvious differences from the common spectacled caiman found throughout the Pantanal. It was a first for Fernanda, and of course for me.

    Even without any wow moments, the scenery along the narrow winding waterways is so gorgeous that merely being out on the river is a privilege.

    4:00-10:00 pm Spotlighting at San Francisco
    Fernanda and I departed Ilha and drove for an hour to the neighboring lodge, 2/3 on firm dirt roads through fields that held another giant anteater and 1/3 on paved highway. San Francisco is noted for raptors and predators, even maned wolves. The irrigated rice fields attract the wildlife.

    We had a nice daylight view of a Burrowing Owl when we arrived and watched a Rhea bed down for the night. I found the Maguari Stork, and Fernanda told me what I had found. It was the first Maguari Stork this trip.

    There was a group from Dragoman Tours along with us on the night drive. They were guests at the lodge, which can house about 75. Some of the Dragoman participants appeared to be German and I was thinking we might see a giant anteater so I was all set with the German word Fernanda had taught me: Ameisenbär.

    We scoped out the sizeable open truck and agreed upon what we thought was the best seat—second row from the back of the five rows. Fernanda had me put some gear in that spot to reserve it while we all got the orientation talk and the safety glasses.

    About 6:00 pm we set off. Almost immediately we found a large ocelot, relaxed in a tree, barely able to keep its eyes open. The high quality of the spotlight, and the fact that the vehicle was turned off, made photos possible even at night. It was a beautiful animal and a spectacular sighting. We left the ocelot as relaxed as we found it, in search of other species.

    The light was shone on one of the ponds and the caiman eyes lit up by the hundreds. The caiman at San Francisco will have not suffer the consequences of the drought that caiman in other parts of the Pantanal will. The heavy irrigation of the rice fields will insure adequate water, regardless of what falls (or does not fall) from the sky.

    We found two separate Barn Owls (rarely seen elsewhere in the Pantanal) and two separate Striped Owls (not found other places in the Pantanal), a couple of crab eating fox, and a few marsh deer. There were no other predators in our approximately 2-hour outing, but the spotting award of the night went to a guide (for clients in the back row) who was sitting next to us—we were 3 across and 5 could easily fit across the seat. He looked at Fernanda’s camera around her neck and mine held on my lap and exclaimed, “You two have the same camera.” That was news to us, as we had never noticed, even though Fernanda had taken a few shots of me. But I had it set up through the viewfinder on mine and she used her screen. “Well spotted,” we congratulated him on his Sony DSC H9 sighting. “I’m paid to be observant,” was his response.

    One unexpected little pleasure of the night drive was seeing the pairs of parrots bedded down for the night together in the various parrot trees. The spotlight did not linger on the parrots, as seeing them was not our goal and we did not wish to disturb them. But for that momentary glimpse into their world they looked so cute huddled close for a night of togetherness.

    Well, there were no German guests and we saw no anteaters so now I’ll have to find some other occasion to impress people with the word “Ameisenbär.”

    A tasty outdoor barbecue followed the spotlighting and had we stayed longer, live music would have followed the barbecue. On the dark roads for the drive back home, we found one very animated little 6-banded armadillo. I can see why they are often roadkill; we waited about five minutes for him to leave the road and he had no sense of urgency.

    I liked the variety in my itinerary of including a night drive at San Francisco. You could also spend the night and do a vehicle safari in the rice fields the next day, or you could arrive midday for a daytime safari, in addition to their signature night drive.

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    *****Sat July 4*****

    6:15-10:30 am Walk in the Woods
    Fernanda, Edson, and I drove to a nearby forest and began our bird walk. Through binocs and the scope we found the Barred Antshrike, Saffron-billed Sparrow, and the beautiful Blue-crowned Trogan. Mosquitoes forced us out of the forest and into the marsh where we were greeted by rain drops. Still, we saw marsh deer, one hanging out with a Rhea; brown capuchins in the trees; pink snail eggs; a Scarlet-headed Blackbird; and a Rufescent Tiger Heron who seemed to accompany us. At the conclusion of our walk Fernanda and I walked back to the lodge, while Edson gave some other guests a lift in the vehicle.

    In addition to the normal excitement of midday birdwatching on the grounds, we had a great view of a caiman lizard, compliments of Edson’s sharp eye. It was funny what a stir a big old ugly lizard could cause, but that’s the kind of guests Ilha attracts.

    Having paid attention to Fernanda’s lesson on the Maguari the previous night, I both found and identified one of my own.

    3:00 – 6:00 pm The Refúgio da Ilha Special—time on the river—downstream canoeing
    Again, I had only to sit in the middle of the 3-person canoe as Edson and Fernanda manned the oars for our downstream paddle. The silence of canoe travel is a wonderfully peaceful way to enjoy the beauty of the Salobra. We saw a stingray through the clear water, some more Neotropic Otters, and the Blue-crowned Mot Mot that had eluded me at Caiman. To stretch our legs we took a 15- minute walk along the shore in the middle of our trip. As if on cue, the Chestnut-eared Aracari appeared in the treetops—actually two of them. A motor boat came for us at the end of our trip and took us back upstream, canoe in tow.

    8:30-9:00 pm Spontaneous After Dark Walkabout
    We had the opportunity for a short night walk around the premises. Fernanda emphasized not to expect much beyond seeing some caiman eyes. What a surprise was in store for us! We saw the caiman eyes, but also a 2-day old baby capybara. Then we heard it whistle for its mom. That kind of freaked out Amigo the dog, who had accompanied us on the night walk, but had exhibited impeccable behavior.

    Then the spotlight shone on some capybaras in the water. And they were mating! I had read that they mate only in water and here they were in front of us in the spotlight! Seeing this behavior was an exciting first for Fernanda as well. Around that time I got to thinking that my fellow countrymen/women back home were most likely watching Fourth of July fireworks about now. Here I was celebrating the holiday with mating capybaras. An unconventional way to demonstrate one’s patriotism, for sure. But, all kidding aside, isn’t that what liberty and pursuit of happiness is all about? Let freedom ring! **==

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    *****Sunday July 5*****

    6:15-11:30 am The Refúgio da Ilha Special—time on the river—downstream boat ride
    Had I left Campo Grande midday to fly home, which was my original thought, I would have missed this delightful final river activity. I was appreciative of being able to do one last outing at Ilha, no extra charge, compliments of International Expeditions.

    Fernanda made sure we had seats at the bow of the motorboat since there were four guests going for the ride.

    After ten days of honing my spotting skills, I put them to work and found two of our four otters, all Neotropic. One gave us a great audio-only performance by noisily devouring a fish in the dense reeds. The Chestnut-eared Aracari made a second appearance, we saw some well concealed capybaras on the river bank, and spent a good deal of time enjoying several active brown capuchins.

    During lunch, some more active brown capuchins decided to stop by and bid me farewell. I left my lunch and watched them from the bridge. Good thing I was packed because my best monkey viewing in The Pantanal was taking place during the final moments of my visit and I wouldn’t want to miss it.

    The monkeys moved on and it was time for the White-Rumped Monjita to take flight as well.

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    Final Memories
    I was at the airport departure gate in Campo Grande thinking what a great time Refúgio da Ilha had been and what a wonderful guide Fernanda was. I could see her standing before me in my mind’s eye…and suddenly…there she was. What an imagination! No, it was Fernanda in the flesh, toting my jacket. It had gotten mixed up with her gear in the back seat of her car and she made her way back to the airport and somehow talked her way through security to deliver my jacket to me. Another chance for thank you’s and goodbye hugs and it confirmed exactly what I had been thinking: what a great guide!

    I landed in São Paulo and proceeded through the chaos that is Guarulhos International Airport with my thoughts still back in the Pantanal—the guides, the birds, the animals. But as I was herded with the crowd through endless roped off lines, my mind shifted to the cattle I had seen herded into the corral and across the bridge. Step by step, I was becoming one with Brazilian beef cattle! Considering they end up as barbecue, that was not good. Suddenly I was yanked back to reality like a calf in a lasso by an agent shouting, “Nova York.” That was my cue to follow the agent to a new line, and eventually to a departing plane.

    Whenever I land in O’Hare, returning from some faraway adventure, I know it is back to my daily reality. Not so fast this time. As I trudged to the bus that would take me home, instinctively my spotting skills kicked in to detect a baby rabbit tucked away beneath the cool shelter of a lily bed. I had almost an hour before the bus departed so I dropped down on all fours for a better look. Accustomed to passersby, the bunny paid no attention to me and eventually hopped out from under its cover for a few mouthfuls of grass. While snapping a photos, I thought of the Brazilian rabbit—about the same size as this bunny—that I had watched fall prey to the ocelot. And I pondered the fate of this little guy munching in front of me.

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    I ditched my bird book, Aves Brasileiras by Johan Dalgas Frisch, in the library at Ilha because it was too heavy and not that great. If you visit and find the book, I wrote a brief inscription inside the cover. A better book is Birds of Southern South America and Antarctica by Martin R. de la Pena (Author), Maurice Rumboll (Author), Gustavo Carrizo (Illustrator), Aldo A. Chiappe (Illustrator), Jorge R. Mata (Illustrator)

    Here is my bird list of 161 species, in mostly alphabetical order

    Amazon Kingfisher
    American Kestral
    Anhinga
    Aplomado Falcon
    Bare-faced Curassow
    Brazilian Teal
    Barn Owl
    Barred Antshrike
    Bat Falcon
    Bay-winged Cowbird
    Black and White Hawk Eagle
    Black Vulture
    Black-backed Water Tyrant
    Black-capped Donacobius
    Black-collared Hawk
    Black-crowned Night Heron
    Black-hooded Parakeet
    Black-throated Saltater
    Black-winged Stilt
    Blaze-winged Parakeet
    Blue and Yellow Macaw (Campo Grande, not Pantanal)
    Blue-black Grassquit
    Blue-crowned Mot Mot
    Blue-crowned Parakeet
    Blue-crowned Trogan
    Blue-fronted Parrot
    Blue-throated Piping Guan
    Boatbilled Heron
    Buff-necked Ibis
    Burrowing Owl
    Campo Flicker
    Capped Heron (new favorite)
    Cattle Egret
    Cattle Tyrant
    Chaco Chachalaca
    Chalk-browed Mockingbird
    Chopi Blackbird
    Cocoi Heron (White-necked)
    Crane Hawk
    Crested Caracara (Southern)
    Crested Oropendola
    Crimson-crested Woodpecker
    Eared Dove
    Epaulet Oriole
    Giant Cowbird
    Gilded Sapphire
    Golden-green Woodpecker
    Golden-winged Cacique
    Gray-hooded Saltater
    Gray Kite
    Gray-necked Wood Rail
    Great Antshrike
    Great Black Hawk
    Great Egret
    Great Horned Owl
    Great Kilkadee
    Great Potoo
    Great rufous Woodcreeper
    Greater Rhea
    Green and Rufous Kingfisher
    Green Kingfisher
    Green-barred Woodpecker
    Grey Monjita
    Grey-breasted Martin
    Grey-headed Kite
    Guira Cuckoo
    Hyacinth Macaw
    Jabiru Stork
    Lesser Kiskadee
    Lesser Yellow-headed Vulture
    Limpkin
    Lineated Woodpecker
    Lined Tanager
    Little Cuckoo
    Little Night Jar
    Little Woodpecker
    Long-winged Harrier (light and dark forms)
    Maguari Stork
    Monk Parakeet
    Muxcovy Duck
    Nacunda Nighthawk
    Narrow-billed Woodcreeper
    Neotropic Cormorant
    Orange-winged Parrot
    Pale-crested Woodpecker
    Palel Vented Pigeon
    Pale-legged Hornero
    Palm Tanager
    Panalto Slaty Antshrike
    Pauraque
    Peach-fronted Parakeet
    Picazuro Pigeon
    Picui Ground Dove
    Pied Lapwing
    Planalto Woodcreeper
    Plumbeous Ibis
    Plush-crested jay
    Purplish Jay
    Pygmy Kingfisher
    Red-billed Scythebill
    Red-crested Cardinal
    Red-legged Serieman
    Red-rumped Cacique
    Ringed Kingfisher
    Roadside Hawk
    Roseate spoonbill
    Ruddy Gournd Dove
    Rufescent Tiger Heron
    Rufous Hornero
    Rufous-bellied Thrush (Bird of Brazil)
    Rusty Marginated Flycatcher
    Rusty-backed Antwren
    Safron-billed Sparrow
    Savanna Hawk
    Scaled Dove
    Scaly-headed parakeet
    Scarlet-headed Blackbird
    Scissor-tailed Night jar
    Screaming Cowbird
    Shiny Cowbird
    Shisting Heron
    Silver-beaked Tanager
    Smooth-billed Ani
    Snail Kite
    Snowy Egret
    Snowy Egret
    Solitary Cacique
    Southern Lapwing
    Southern Sandpiper
    Southern Screamer
    Spectacled Owl
    Squirrel Cuckoo
    Streaming Tailed Flycatcher
    Striated Heron
    Striped Owl
    Suiriri Flycatcher
    Sungrebe
    Swallow-tailed Hummingbird
    Thrushlike Wren
    Toco Toucan
    Troupial (Campo Oriole)
    Turkey Vulture
    Undulated Tinamou
    Unicollared Blackbird
    Vermilion Flycatcher
    Wattled Jacana
    Whispering Ibis (Barefaced)
    White Woodpecker
    White-bellied Warbler
    White-browed Blackbird
    Whited-lored Spinetail
    White-headed marsh-tyrant
    White-tailed Hawk
    White-tipped Dove
    White-wedged Piculet
    Wood Stork
    Yellow-chevroned Parakeet
    Yellow-billed Cardinal
    Yellow-rumped Cacique
    White Monjita
    And of course, the White-Rumped Monjita!

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    What a delightful and informative read for someone (or two) heading out to the Pantanal. I can't imagine that we'll see as much as you did since our spotting skills have yet to peak. I am very confident that we will drink many more Caipirinhas...

    Have a great trip to see the gorillas. That should be some report! Again, thanks so much.

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    Only you would spot a bunny at O'Hare (hey, is that why it's called O Hare???). Thanks for the magnificent report. That's some bird list!

    Have a great ape time on your next Africa trip. Please hurry with your report upon return--this is a 100% selfish request. I am contemplating being impulsive and going solo next year.

    Again, wonderful photos even without a smiling and waving anteater.

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    Thanks for another informative and thoroughly entertaining report, Lynn! Have a great trip back to Africa!

    Marija,
    Hope you and Bruce have a great trip too and I'll be looking forward to your thoughts on Embiara!

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    I am late to the party Lynn, but I have spent the last hour reading your great report and viewing you pictures. Such great details and funny commentary to boot (who doesn't like butt humor?). Thanks for sharing your wonderful trip with us.

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    Only got as far as the Refúgio Ecológico Caiman photos. I'm enjoying your wonderful report and your photos.
    You mentioned canoeing at one point - would this be a good kayak/canoe destination?

    I look forward to reading more.
    Thanks for posting.

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    Thanks Atdahl and I'm glad you like butt humor, juvenile as it may be.

    Cybor, you could probably set it up to focus more on canoeing/kayaking, but that would need to be communicated up front. I did 2 canoe trips this last trip and could have done 3. Very enjoyable, easy paddles with lovely scenery. THE place for canoeing and other boating activities is Refugio da Ilha.

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